Specifiers, integrators say collaboration key to project success

Panel at TechSec says it’s essential the two talk and work together
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—Communicate, communicate, communicate. That was the primary advice from two integrators and two specifiers who spoke on a panel Tuesday at TechSec Solutions here on the topic of how integrators and consultants can work most effectively together. Other advice included thorough vetting of integrators during the pre-specification phase to make sure they have the experience and expertise to successfully complete the project.

“The premise is that communication in large projects isn’t just good, it’s essential,” said Ray Coulombe, founder of several security companies in the security surveillance space, including SecuritySpecifiers, who moderated the Feb. 15 panel discussion.

On the panel were two consultants: Elliot Boxerbaum, CEO, Security/Risk Management Consultants, and John De George, principal and VP of consulting, Ducibella Venter & Santore.

Rounding out the panel were two integrators: Philip Aronson, president of Aronson Security Group, and Jim Henry, executive VP of Henry Bros. Electronics, a Kratos company.

Coulombe asked the group what good communication means.

Boxerbaum cited a project at a “very large-tiered, three-plus-plus data center” in which there was “an absolute gem” of an integrator with whom they had continuous communication as the integrator was going through the specs.

“We really dealt with 90 percent of the issues before the first card reader went up and the first camera went in or before the first piece of wire was pulled,” Boxerbaum said.

He said the project, with hundreds of cameras and dozens of card readers, “was as close to a perfect project as we had ever seen,” and the key was “honesty, openness, collaboration, and not an adversarial relationship.”

De George described a successful single-access-system project involving five major cities in Europe when he formerly worked as managing director of global technical security for NYSE Euronext.

He said his role in the project was as a client and he ended up using a relatively small integrator in New York with whom he had previously worked. “As my good friend Jim Henry says, ‘People do business with people,’” De George said.

He added, “as a client, we made sure we were intimately involved. You can never be too focused on the details for a successful project.”

Another key to a successful outcome, he said, is making sure the consultant, integrator and client are all “on the same page dealing with each other almost as equals.”

Henry said, “The integrator, the manufacturer and the consultant aren’t evil, but we all can be if the system is set up to encourage that kind of confrontation … Everybody has to be able to survive, to make some level of profit to be able go forward … that’s the only way you have a synergistic and positive relationship.”

All the panelists described what Aronson called “horror stories” about projects that had problems because consultants and integrators did not work together.

He cited an example of an airport project in which a consultant specified products that had never been deployed in the type of environment in which they were to be used. In the end, Aronson said, “we were able to show it really didn’t work” and eventually have a positive outcome. But he said the problems could have been avoided with “better open communication.”

Aronson also cited a successful airport project for which his company was the integrator that he said worked well because “they thought out of the box.”

The specifier working on the project, he said, “put a competition together before the project had even been designed. It was around engineering and project management capabilities and accomplishments, it was around margins, markups, rates … those were the things we were competing on before the design even started … it wasn’t just a low bid on a specification.”

Henry said that typically on a project there’s “one report card: on time and under budget.” But he and the other panelists said other criteria, such as the ability of the system to adapt to changing needs in the future, need to be considered.

The dangers of choosing “the lowest bidder,” rather than the most qualified integrator extend well beyond the installation of the system, said Henry. The system will need to be adapted, supported and maintained for years to come. “Five or ten years after the project, you want someone to be there to support the project,” he said. If you simply choose the lowest bidder, “they won’t be there five years later.”

Boxerbaum said that critical on a project is “matching everything up: Setting the client’s expectations, making sure we have the right integrator in there with the skill sets that are needed, and then managing those expectations continuously … throughout that entire process [and into the future].”